Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finding a healthy sugar alternative PART THREE

First, check out PART ONE and PART TWO.

Second, lets talk about glycemic index. The glycemic index describes how foods effect a persons blood glucose level. A high glycemic food indicates that it causes a large fluctuation in the blood glucose levels and creates a lot of stress on the pancreas and in turn the heart. A low glycemic food indicates that the carbohydrate is broken down slowly and puts less stress on the body overall.

Okay, now lets talk about some of our "healthy" options for sweeteners.

DEMERARA, MUSCOVADO and TURBINADO are raw sugars. The use of the phrase raw is very loose. There can be some heating and processing involved with raw sugars to evaporate water and aid in the crystallization process. In this process only a small amount of molasses remains. This is what I have been using,which is definitely better than regular white sugar, but if my finances can handle it, I will be experimenting with the options I list next.

SUCANAT and RAPADURA are unrefined and less processed then the above sugars and actually lose no molasses whatsoever.
These raw and unrefined sugars are better than refined white sugar by a long shot. However, they are still a form of sugar/sucrose and have a high glycemic rating.
I have been using this quite a bit in my cooking.  I use the same measurements called for in using white sugar and have not noticed any change in the taste.

MOLASSES is the only sugar cane product which has a relatively low glycemic index. It is high in minerals, including iron and calcium. Molasses is the product left over after the crystallization process of sugar, i.e. it contains all the nutrition that is taken out of white sugar. Make sure the molasses is unsulfured, as some use sulfur dioxide as a preservative. The darker, the better. 
I am a little nervous to try cooking with molasses, as it does alter the taste of things, but I will start experimenting soon....

UNREFINED/RAW HONEY contains many B vitamins and other nutrients.  The sugars it contains are pre-digested into fructose and glucose which are more easily digested by our bodies and converted to instant energy. They are less likely to be stored as fat as long as the body is active. It is high glycemic... however, most people digest honey much more easily than sugar. Raw, unpasteurized honey contains elements which can help with wound healing, kill bacteria, soothe sore throats and digestive issues, and decrease local allergy symptoms (if using raw honey that was made by bees in your area).
I use honey a lot when baking.  Since honey is sweeter than sugar by volume, I tend to use 3/4 of the amount called for.

Maple Syrup - I have not found evidence of one grade being better than the other.  All I know, is that Grade A in America is more runny than Grade B.  Both have very few minerals, but contain significant amounts of zinc and manganese (both essential minerals.)  Maple Syrup is still rather high on the glycemic index.  So for us, it is a definite for our waffles, pancakes and sausage dipping pleasure, but that will be it. 

Agave Nectar - I could write a whole blog on this, but luckily enough, many people already have, please check out the link for more info!!!
This is the hardest sugar to review, because there are people that swear that it is the best sugar alternative out there and then there are those that argue strongly against that.  Some would say that buying RAW agave would be the difference of it being good or bad for you.  But, it seems that again, the use of the word RAW is very loose.  It is still heated and processed extensively, basically due to the fact that agave is not naturally sweet and needs to be altered to provide that sweet taste
One fact, is that agave is extraordinarily low glycemic, which targets, inappropriately, very well to diabetics .....BUT the reason for it being low glycemic, is because it contains a very small percentage of glucose and a very large percentage of fructose (many brands have higher amounts than High Fructose Corn Syrup.)  When I hear the word fructose, I think of sugar coming from fruit, but with Agave, we are talking about a "synthetic" fructose, that does not have the minerals and vitamins coming along side them.
As I understand it, the reason for Fructose having a low glycemic index, is that it does not hang around the pancreas as glucose does, it actually is metabolized by the liver.  Thus, putting lots of stress there and looks to be correlated with increased blood triglyceride levels, heart disease, and insulin resistance.

Stevia - Gosh darnit, why does there have to be so much controversy???? There seems to be nothing conclusive about this product, except that it has been used for 100's maybe even 1,000's of years in other countries, mainly Japan and Canada, it seems, and no ill effects have been reported.  There are studies showing LARGE doses causing cancer,  reproductive difficulties and toxicity to kidneys, in mice.  These studies were challenged by more studies and little to no toxicity was found.  Can you say INCONCLUSIVE???
Stevia is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar and contains no calories.  It has been used in other countries medicinally.  It has been used to treat depression, fatigue, It has been shown to support the function of the pancreas - increasing enzyme availability and improving the body's ability to process other sugars (sounds pretty good for the CF world?). 
If you are interested in trying, which I am, the least processing the better and make sure there are no additives in it.  You want pure stevia!!!!  Pure stevia is a non-carbohydrate and hence low on the glycemic index.  A lot of the additives are carbohydrates and thus negate the low index.  The liquid form, would mean it has been processed more then necessary.  People actually just grow the stevia plant, dry out the leaves and crush them into a fine powder.  So, I believe if you can find it in a green powder that would be the best???

Okay, I am done....this post is way too long already!!!!  There are more sugars to research, but we will leave that for another day... a long time from now :)

My goals are to continue to work with rapidura and honey in my recipes...continue to use maple syrup for breakfasts and see what I can do with stevia.  Please any feedback is welcome!!!  This is simply information found off the internet, which means none of it is definite fact, so if you have better info, bring it on!!!!


  1. Well done! Thank you for the very concice, but fact laden posts on Sugar. Amazingly, I have all of these sweeters in Blog Week 3 in my home and only stevia from Blog Week 2. I was undecided about agave syrup (raw org.), but this helps me understand, thank you. Too bad as it is best in tea and smoothies, because the raw honey tends to clump at the bottom of the blender and get stuck. Any tips? Thanks for spreading the knowledge. Dont forget the recently coined 'corn sugar'!! Heidi P

  2. HEIDI
    We have that problem with coconut oil in the boys' smoothies. The only thing that works is having the blender on while slowly adding the honey in. Oh yes, the wonderful world of if High Fructose Syrup now has a bad rep, lets just rename it "corn sugar"....

  3. Hi there, thanks for the post. I came across your blog recently, the first of your sugar posts. We seem to be doing the same research. I have a 3 year old son with CF too and am trying to keep him healthy as naturally as possible.
    As for sugar, I use rapadura, molasses, raw honey and maple syrup in moderation, and have just recently got some stevia which I will experiment with. I don't trust Agave. Just to add, raw honey (if it's really raw) also contains enzymes which help digestion. Let us know how you go using sugar alternatives in cooking.
    Thanks again.

  4. thanks for this post!! Its really nice to have all this info in one place!!! I think my pick is going to be honey for the most part...maybe stevia...I needed this post after yesterday!!

  5. Lisa, please keep me up to date on your ongoing research!!! If you have a blog or on facebook let me know!!!

    Krista...so glad this post helped!!!! I think raw honey is probably the best to use...I was just talking to a "bee expert" and she was saying you can even go a step further and get unfiltered, which means it still has the bee pollen and other nutrient ingredients in it. My research will continue :)

  6. Thank you for all this research. I'd like to add something regarding Stevia. Debi Pearl has done a nice little video (found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p5lxS_V-5Y) on how to make liquid Stevia from the white powder so it's not bitter.
    Basically the white powder is just the dried out veins of the leaves, so green stevia should have white in it as well and would just not have been sifted from the dried veins - not necessarily processed more.
    I'd be curious to know if you've done research on Xylitol - also low glycemic and anti-cavity, anti-fungal, anti-viral, etc.
    Thank you

  7. DeDe....
    Thank you for the info on Stevia..I have been using the powder in my tea and I can't get the right amount, because it is so miniscule, so I think I will try to make it into liquid.
    I have looked into Xylitol and it is an ingredient of our toothpaste..the little research I did on it, I found that it is a sugar alcohol and can cause digestive issues. The boys already have digestive issues, so I don't want to add to them. I think it is a great alternative though..I was using that in my tea for a while..